Luis Castillo was released this morning, following a drama-filled Spring Training with the Mets. GM Sandy Alderson referred to the move as a “baseball decision,” but it had just as much to do with off-the-field issues. This is not a knock on Castillo the person, but rather what he represented to the Mets. Castillo was a metaphor for everything the Mets are trying to get away from: overpaid, underachieving, old, unproductive, ill-received by fans, a constant topic of discussion. Enough was enough and they cut ties.
I wrote a piece for Brotherly Glove this morning actually, wherein I examine the difference between “talent” and “value” for the Phillies’ potential buy-low candidates. The difference in talent and value is that, at $6.25MM, Castillo does not represent enough talent to add value to a team like the Phillies. But at the major league minimum of $400,000, he does.
The Phils will likely open the season with a combo of Wilson Valdez and Josh Barfield at second base. Everyone within the organization applauds Valdez’ efforts from last season, when he started 88 more games than the blueprint suggested. But his offensive skills are, rightly so, being called into question. On 97.5 FM Wednesday, Jayson Stark said that he had heard from several scouts that Valdez is simply “not going to be a 6-7 day a week player.”
This necessary realization that Valdez doesn’t have enough boom in his stick is precisely what has allowed the Barfield train to keep running toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Barfield is a more offensive-minded second baseman than either Valdez or Castillo, but Barfield has only 53 plate appearances since 2007.
The Phillies do not have “safe” options here. We all love Valdez, but it’s imperative to note that his career OPS is 36% worse than league-average. He is coming off his best year, far and away, but his 2011 was by no means an adequate offensive season. When a player outperforms our expectations, we tend to let our emotions delude our judgment of the player.
Valdez hit into 20 double plays last season – one fewer than his amount of walks and three fewer than his extra-base hit total.
His true value comes defensively, but Phillies scouts have recognized this offseason that second base is Valdez’ least comfortable defensive position.
As bad as Luis Castillo was in 2010 – and boy, was he bad – he was not significantly worse than Valdez. It was by far the worst season of Castillo’s career, but he still got on-base 4% more than Valdez.
Castillo was out-slugged and out-hit slightly, but he hit into only 6 of those soul-crushing double plays in 71 chances, or 8% of his GIDP opportunities. Valdez hit into a double play in 13% of such opportunities. And, this is a repeatable trait. Valdez may not control when baserunners are on for him, but he can control the amount of routine grounders he hits. For his career, over 60% of Valdez’ balls in play have been ground balls.
Looking at BABIP, Castillo hit .259 on balls in play in 2010, well below his incredibly high career .329 mark. This is a clear sign that Castillo should perform better in 2011. BABIP does not always regress to the .300 mean, but it is safe to assume that it will in Castillo’s drastic case.
Castillo is not as mobile as Valdez defensively, but he is much more experienced, having played the position for almost 15,000 major league innings. Valdez has played 406 innings at second in his career.
If the Phils’ only option at second was Valdez, I would advise them to go out immediately to sign Castillo, based on his experience, high volume of contact with little GIDP risk, and the general “safeness” he would bring to the situation. But the Phils will also probably carry Barfield on the major league roster in case they need more offensive production from the position.
In looking at the composition of the 25-man roster, the Phils could certainly fit in all three players. Guaranteed, there will be:
- 8 starting position players
- 5 starting pitchers
- 6 relievers (Lidge, Madson, Romero, Contreras, Baez, Kendrick)
- 4 bench guys (Schneider, Gload, Mayberry, probably Barfield)
That leaves two open spots. With so many off days in April and such a deep rotation, the Phillies do not need a 7th reliever. Even if Lidge is hurt, the starters should still be able to go long enough to make it a non-factor, and if Blanton is skipped on an off day or two, the bullpen has a de facto 7th man.
So, that leaves two bench spots. Castillo could occupy one, Delwyn Young or Michael Martinez could occupy the other. That bench would give the Phillies depth and versatility in the infield and outfield, a pinch-running threat in Martinez, and three switch-hitting pinch-hit options.
At $6.25MM, Castillo should be booed if he struggles. But at $400,000, the reward of Castillo being an upgrade far outweighs the risk of him being slightly worse than Valdez.